You’re finally ready to begin your novel. You’ve settled on that intriguing big idea, created a unique main character, and sharpened your story arc. But, do you know what point of view you will use to tell your story?
Just as you figure out the big elements of your novel in the first stages of the book-crafting process, you should also choose which point of view to use in your novel before you even start writing. This means pinpointing which character (human, dog or otherwise!) should be the main eyes for your story. The right point of view serves your story; a wrong lens can cause the whole novel to fall flat. Often, authors discover the latter after many months, or years, of writing.
Save yourself time and energy and consider the following guide to the most common types of point of view and how to use them.
4 Common Types of Point of View:
This is when the story is told from the point-of-view of “I.” Many regard this as the most natural voice for first-time authors. Examples of novels that employ this POV are The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.
Advantages: An author can better explore and develop a character. Also, as the reader is inside one character’s head, there’s greater potential for a stronger emotional bond and understanding with that person. Especially when writing from the perspective of a particularly unlikable character, authors can create unexpected empathy in readers.
Drawbacks: Being confined to one character’s mind can later feel like a straightjacket. Readers are strapped to only what the character experiences and can’t see anything he or she isn’t physically present to witness. Also, there’s a risk that this one character is simply not interesting enough to last an entire book.
2. Third-Person Limited
Just like with first-person point of view, the story unfolds through the eyes of just one character. But instead of “I,” the narrator refers to your character as “he” or “she.” It offers a bit more flexibility than first-person. Examples of novels that follow third-person limited are The Call of the Wild by Jack London and For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway.
Advantages: Authors can show things the character doesn’t witness or know about, eliminating that first-person claustrophobia. And, since you’re not bound to your character’s knowledge or vocabulary, you can describe things in more depth than your character may be able to on his or her own. This POV also allows for more objectivity—handy if your character isn’t the most reliable of people.
Drawbacks: When not tackled properly, readers may wonder why you created distance and didn’t just write in first-person to begin with. The character’s internal conflict may also not be as apparent, causing the story arc to feel flat. And, there’s a greater chance for clichéd author intrusions, such as, “Little did he know that…”
3. Third-Person Multiple
Here, several “he” or “she” characters tell the story. This is the best choice for exploring a big idea or developing an intricate plot. Often, you’ll see historical fiction, family sagas, social commentary novels, and crime novels use this point of view. Examples of other novels using this popular lens are those from the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin and The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards.
Advantages: You can present information the protagonist doesn’t have, show conflicting viewpoints of the same event, and develop more complex and interesting characters. You can also prolong suspense and intensify dread through cliffhanger switches from one point of view to another.
Drawbacks: With so many voices competing for space, you risk having readers not care about your characters because they haven’t gotten to know them. Speaking of space, the book can grow way too long. Or, the protagonist’s journey can get overshadowed.
4. Combo Point of View
Combining points of view, such as interspersing passages of first-person with third-person, can be especially effective in mysteries and thrillers. Authors Michael Connelly and Lisa Gardner in particular have melded first person with third person.
Advantages: When you want to get inside one character’s mind, you can use first-person, but then have the freedom to switch to third-person in other cases.
Drawbacks: Combining points of view effectively requires a lot of care and often takes a very skilled writer to pull off.
Have any questions on point of view? Not sure which one to use for your novel? Ask me in the comments below.
These tips were adapted from my award-winning book, The Novel-Maker’s Handbook: The No Nonsense Guide to Crafting a Marketable Story.